9 October 2019 by and Dispute Resolution Alert

Let’s kill all the lawyers

If the title of this article appealed to you, perhaps you’ve recently had to pay an attorney’s invoice. Or you had to pay someone else’s attorney’s invoice? You might be thinking that Dick the Butcher, in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, had a point: “Let’s kill all the lawyers!” Fortunately for us attorneys – and as an aside – it has been reported that this line is often misinterpreted. Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade (who led a popular revolt in 1450 against the English government), and thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare was suggesting that attorneys and judges help to maintain law and order! Phew!

But let’s be honest [insert lawyer joke here], attorneys (and litigators specifically) are often a grudge purchase. If you have to see a lawyer, it probably means that something has gone wrong and now you have to spend money to resolve it. In the current climate, everyone is looking for ways to cut costs and maximise efficiency and there are in fact several ways that you can cut your legal costs – all entirely within your control.

A risk averse “friend” in the legal business

Having a close relationship with your attorney has several benefits and you should take advantage of the fact that attorneys have not (yet) been replaced by robots and you can simply call them up to ask for a quick view. Obviously that’s not going to work if you want them to interpret a contractual provision, but if you’re debating whether or not to respond to an aggressive email or to someone who might be setting you up to make some sort of admission – a quick call to your attorney could potentially save you a lot of management time and money later. Attorneys are there to advise on risk. Use them.

Teach your attorney about your business and its challenges

Your attorney should be curious about your business. Invite them to see your production line, visit the mine or watch the manufacturing process and show them where your challenges lie so that they understand your risks. Teach them some of your industry jargon. Not only will it give them something to brag about at their next pub night but it’s a business development opportunity for your attorney that they should never pass up. It may well save you time in the long run because you hopefully won’t need a four-hour long consultation, if and when a problem does arise, to teach your attorney about how your foo foo valve relies on the thingy that broke off the what-not on your machine.

Order your documents

It may sound lame, but this is a big one. When your attorney asks for “all the correspondence from X date to Y date”, send the documents chronologically and clearly marked or ordered so that the attorney knows where to start. When attorneys prepare court papers, they need to tell a story and stories are best told from the beginning and in sequence. If an attorney has to spend hours trying to piece together what happened and the documents are unclear or poorly printed/scanned, there are going to be many emails coming your way asking for clarity and guess what - all of those emails add up to billable hours.

Look before you leap

Litigation is expensive, both in money and in time, but there are many situations where it is objectively the right decision. Bear in mind though that stopping the process half-way through does not mean that the attorney can’t charge you for the work already done and that you won’t be liable for the other side’s costs. If possible, rather take more time to consult with your attorney at the beginning of the matter so that you develop a strategy that is likely to give you the result you want, so that you understand all the risks before you start, and that you’re happy to see this course of action through. Decisions to litigate should be taken with the same level of measured calmness that should be applied to any investment decision. Anger, revenge, pride and emotions of that ilk should not feature despite the fact that they are central in situations which usually give rise to litigation.

Sun Tzu was able to sum up the approach we advocate. “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Donald Trump, not so much. “Sometimes you need conflict in order to come up with a solution. Through weakness, oftentimes, you can’t make the right sort of settlement, so I’m aggressive, but I also get things done, and in the end, everybody likes me.”

download PDF

The information and material published on this website is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

We make every effort to ensure that the content is updated regularly and to offer the most current and accurate information. Please consult one of our lawyers on any specific legal problem or matter.

We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage, whether direct or consequential, which may arise from reliance on the information contained in these pages.

Please refer to the full terms and conditions on the website.

Copyright © 2019 Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce an article or publication, please contact us cliffedekkerhofmeyr@cdhlegal.com

You may also be interested in